I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen some pretty horrific things passing through my social media feed the last few weeks. And I am not OK.
I’m not going to re-share the relevant images or specifics, but I want to pause for a moment and talk about what to make these stories. Because their haunting horror isn’t easing and I need to find a way to get through my grief and sense of helplessness.
Content warning: Non-specific mentions of martyrdom, suffering and ‘thoughts and prayers’.
So, I saw someone asking why white Christians were repenting of the sins their ancestors committed against people of colour.
And I want to write about this.
Caveats: I’m mainly going to talk to how I understand the Old Testament, because the Old Testament was being quoted and it’s something I’m familiar with as a Christian. But just because I’m taking this angle, that doesn’t mean it’s the most relevant or comprehensive angle; I just want to demonstrate how this particular argument doesn’t stack up.
In short, the argument was this: if we’re all responsible for what we do ourselves, not what other people do, then white people shouldn’t have to apologise for the racism of other white people. See, for example, the principle of individual responsibility promoted in Ezekiel 18:19-20.
However, I think this fails to appreciate the context of Ezekiel and the attitudes the book was responding to.
“Breathe in the good s***, breathe out the bulls***.”
As I told a friend I was going to hear Nadia Bolz-Weber speak, he said she was the only person he’d ever heard swear in St Paul’s Cathedral. She’s probably also the only person people have heard swear in Southwark Cathedral too – which is where I heard her speak about her recent book “Shameless.” Trust me, when I use asterisks in this post, you can be sure that she didn’t.
For those who don’t know, Nadia is a rather unconventional Lutheran pastor. She was the founding pastor of a congregation called “House for All Sinners and Saints” and she’s gone on record saying that ethically-sourced porn is OK. Her Twitter handle is @sarcasticluther and she puts “SHAMELESS af” after her name.
This is the second of a pair of posts about Good Omens. I’ll start with a quick recap of where I got to in the previous one, and don’t worry, this post is half the length of its predecessor.
There was this bit:
We should appreciate then that the story is about misfits trying to change the establishment, far more than any modern concepts of witchcraft. In fact, all the heroes, by their very nature and identity, transgress the bounds of acceptability in one way or another.
And this bit:
The question for critics, if they can concede that Good Omens is a good piece of storytelling, is whether its transgressive core is against Christian belief. Because let’s face it: disobedience, mischief and rebellion aren’t exactly renowned Christian virtues.
It’s easy to guffaw when a bunch of anxious conservative Christians launch a petition calling for Netflix to cancel a popular show. Especially when that show, the recent adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s and Neil Gaiman’s book Good Omens, was actually a joint work from Amazon and the BBC.
But if we can reasonably assume that these concerns will persist even in the face of Netflix’s promise not to make any more, let’s ask the question in all seriousness: does the show make Satanism ‘appear normal, light and acceptable’? Does it mock God’s wisdom?
You’ll get the most out of this post if you first read the previous one. Basically, I went to a talk where a man preached that Jesus took humanity’s punishment when Jesus suffered on the cross. At the end I said I didn’t think was supported by the bible, but rather Jesus took humanity’s sin.
In the previous post, I talked about what the theology of penal substitutionary atonement is, why I have such issue with it, what this man actually said, and what I said by way of challenge.
This post charts my experiencing of going into that talk, coming away from it, and how people responded to me.
When I first read the interview in which Christian singer-songwriter Vicky Beeching came out as a lesbian (after a substantial performing career in the USA’s Bible Belt), I found myself faced with a number of challenges. Perhaps surprisingly, the biggest one for me related to how she had undergone an attempted exorcism. It had been aimed at converting her sexual orientation from gay to straight and she had been traumatised by this experience.
I wanted to understand why this was the case. (In all honesty, this wasn’t obvious to me.)
Now, reading her recent memoir-cross-apologetic Undivided, where she defends both her gay identity and LGBTQ+ identities in general, I still have questions, but I also have more answers.
And one thing above all is clear to me: this attempted exorcism ought not be described as merely ‘spontaneous prayers that could have undoubtedly been worded better’. This is what Peter Lynas said whilst writing for (and on behalf of?) the UK Evangelical Alliance. There is much that can be said about his review, but for this post I’ll focus on just these words. I expect many LGBTQ+ advocates would say these words demonstrate a lack of understanding regarding the nature of the offence that conversion therapy presents to them. I think there is something to that, but what I want to show here is how these words fail to take responsibility for beliefs and practices around healing ministries.
I’ll try to explain my reasons as gently as I can.
CONTENT NOTE: This post describes Vicky’s experience of attempted conversion prayer (using details from her book) as well as some anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric.
Having a job where the boss of the adjacent department is someone who discriminated against you (and you’ve never received an apology).
Being amongst extended family members who habitually crack jokes that demean an aspect of your identity (and you’re never sure how serious the jokes are).
Attending a church where the pastor has systematically tried to silence your voice.
Being in an online forum where its leader states repeatedly and categorically that an experience of yours did not, and does not, happen.
They’re pretty uncomfortable scenarios. The question is: what do you do with them?
At work, my boss is someone who is streets ahead of me in terms of professional experience, organisational nous and interpersonal savvy. I can barely begin to go into how much I’ve learned from him. When it comes to music though, it’s the other way round. Aged in his fifties, he’s struggling through his grade 3 guitar exam, whereas I had grade 8 piano when I was fourteen. It makes for some interesting conversations.
Recently he described how his teacher had been telling him that part of the art of being a performer is learning how to handle an uncomfortable environment. What do you achieve if you go into the room and the lighting is a bit off and someone’s looking at you awkwardly and you say you just can’t play?
Last Christmas I realised something that made me so angry I wanted to pick up my laptop and smash it to pieces.
No, this was not an urge that I had felt before.
I was contemplating the second chapter of Hebrews which talks about Jesus being made like the people whom he helped. The book is one of my favourites in the New Testament because it has a wholesale take on Jesus as the Great High Priest. I’m a sucker for the Old Testament books of law (don’t judge me!) so I lap up the words of this letter with delight every time I read them. Assuming I understand them, of course. And there’s no guarantee of that because, good grief, this book is complex!
Anyway: I was contemplating how Jesus was both like and unlike the people that he acted on behalf of as a priest. The thought-process was in aid of a blog post I published in the new year about how “priest” was to be my word for 2017. You see, a priest identifies with someone who is both like and unlike them. That is an integral part of how a priest ministers reconciliation. It was that like-and-unlike idea I had in mind when picked the image for that post – which I’m reusing for this one. (It comes from a winter wedding, in case you hadn’t guessed.)
The thought I had as I was contemplating was this: when a group of people, called by God to be ministers of his covenant to the world, separate themselves from others on the grounds of “purity”, they subvert and frustrate God’s reconciling plan for everyone else.
When I was a plucky secondary school pupil, I had an idea for a perpetual motion machine. I was beyond excited. I was going to solve the world’s energy problems. I was prepared to accept that maybe there was a glitch in my design that I hadn’t realised, so I prayed earnestly that if I was wrong then God will tell me that very same day.
That afternoon my older brother told me it wouldn’t work.
I didn’t believe him to begin with, but gradually reality sank in as he explained. As Scotty would say, “Ya canna change the laws of physics!” Unknowingly, I had been trying to break the first rule of thermodynamics – that energy cannot be created or destroyed.
Thing is, right now, I feel like a child again. I feel like I can change the world. Or maybe it’s not that I can but that I will – by the grace of God, in the wisdom of Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, in the fellowship of the church – change the world.
Is that me or is that not me? I don’t care! The world is going to change – and that’s what really excites me.
It’s the one-year anniversary of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting. It wasn’t long after 12 June 2016 that I spoke publicly about how I wanted to react in the wake of it. I didn’t go into whether or not I thought gay marriage and LGBT relationships were right or wrong; instead I challenged other Christians on how they were going to react.
I was nervous, but I did it, and afterwards I was glad that I did it (as were a number other people, judging by the feedback I received). I also posted a shortened version on this blog. I incorporated considerations about Brexit (which happened two weeks later), though the original was written with only Orlando in mind.
And for a while now, I’ve wanted to share the full version, and the first anniversary of the shooting seems as appropriate as any other time.
That said, I am now stepping way, way outside of my comfort zone.
I wondered what I should I do when I read your recent post about your sense of lament at leaving evangelicalism. Much of what you wrote resonated with me – and yet there were differences. I wondered whether we’re seeing a slightly different problem, or the same problem from different perspectives. Even now, I’m not sure. What I do know is that I wanted to write. And I hope that this letter will be a blessing to you and others who read it.